The superintendent of a Rio Grande Valley (Texas) school district, several school board members and others face charges alleging they accepted more than $600,000 in bribes to steer contracts to certain businesses, federal officials said June 5.
The contracts included insurance for district employees and construction work on schools and athletic fields under two bond issues totaling more than $100 million.
Arturo Guajardo, superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, turned himself in June 4. School board members Raul Navarro and Evangelina De Leon were arrested, as was De Leon’s husband, Ricardo. Board member Rogelio Rodriguez was arraigned May 31.
George Hernandez, who owns a contracting business and is president of the Donna Independent School District school board, also was arrested.
Hernandez and Harlingen insurance agency owner Arnulfo Olivarez are accused of offering the Pharr board members tickets to events in Las Vegas, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament and professional sporting events, as well as guns, prostitutes and clothing. In exchange, they allegedly received favorable votes on contracts between 1998 and 2004.
Olivarez was expected to turn himself in, U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle said.
DeGabrielle said the indictment followed a corruption investigation dating back to January 2005, when federal agents removed boxes of paperwork and other items from school district offices, Guajardo’s home, and Navarro’s home.
“It is a very serious matter. I would nonetheless remind everyone that everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” Pharr school board President Ben Garza said.
The indictment charges all defendants with conspiracy to commit extortion, and the school officials also are charged with extortion. All counts carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. The case is federal because the districts receive federal funds, DeGabrielle said.
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